Harriet Beecher Stowe insists Her Publisher Not Compare Her Book to Others: “Uncle Tom is what he is – and this is what it is”

She demands that her publisher not allow use of her famed book and reputation as a vehicle to sell the books of others

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“Clap trap is the great enemy of the book trade in America at present, and I must rejoice in an opportunity to show that your firm are quite above it.”

Moses Dresser Phillips was the senior member of Phillips, Sampson and Company, a very successful publishing firm that worked with many of...

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Harriet Beecher Stowe insists Her Publisher Not Compare Her Book to Others: “Uncle Tom is what he is – and this is what it is”

She demands that her publisher not allow use of her famed book and reputation as a vehicle to sell the books of others

“Clap trap is the great enemy of the book trade in America at present, and I must rejoice in an opportunity to show that your firm are quite above it.”

Moses Dresser Phillips was the senior member of Phillips, Sampson and Company, a very successful publishing firm that worked with many of the luminaries of the day. He was also the founder of The Atlantic Monthly. His founding The Atlantic Monthly was a triumph. A dinner party proposal in May of 1857 started the ball rolling toward the establishment of magazine known for its literature, art, and politics. Prominent literary people were sponsors and contributed, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Anna Leonowens (whose story was later put on stage as “The King and I”). Lowell served as its first editor and the first issue was published in November 1857. The journal quickly became known for the high quality of its fiction and general articles, contributed by a long line of distinguished editors and authors. It is still active today.

Phillips rejected Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” for publication, so missed that golden opportunity. But starting in 1854, Stowe decided to go with Phillips for her “Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands.” In 1856 the Phillips firm published her sequel to Uncle Tom, “Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp”.

“Sunny Memories” was a two volume work and came out in 1854. Likely it was published in early July, since The Alexandria Gazette mentioned on July 19 that “Mrs. Stowe has just published a new book, ‘Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands.'” In the fall of that year, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Phillips issued “Ida May”, an antislavery novel. This book was written by Mary H. Pike under the pseudonym of Mary Langdon. Phillips sent copies of his books to the press to get reviews and publication notices. Evidently, The New York Evening Post and perhaps others assumed that Stowe, a member of the Phillips, Sampson & Co. stable, was the author. Stowe was concerned about the confusion of identifies and sought to have Phillips clear things up right away.

Autograph letter signed, four pages, no date specified, but likely early November 1854, to Phillips, insisting he take action and warning of his risks in not doing so. “This is one of the cases in which there is a most tempting show of utility to be gained in standing by and permitting an almost innocent deception. But yet as a matter of policy merely apart from moral considerations, I would dissuade you from it. I advise you not to lose a moment in getting out your card of disclaimer. I cannot [make] a penny one way or the other so far as I am concerned but I am sure that should you ever sell twenty thousand on this mistaken presumption, it would be a loss to you in the end. Publishers will be more careful next time, & there has been lately so much clap trap, pretense and trickery in the book trade that it will be impossible to make them believe that you had not had more hand in it than you have. If you disclaim it at the first brush when everybody sees that you might have made money. It will be a rebuke to the back sliding of the trade and will give you a firmness in regard to your future advertising and insertions which will be better than the most brilliant sale.

“Clap trap is the great enemy of the book trade in America at present, and I must rejoice in an opportunity to show that your firm are quite above it. This is my advice in regard to your interests – in regard to the interests of the book and the author, I am equally clear. It will react in the book in the end for nobody likes to find themselves mistaken & will visit their negation on the book. As far as I am concerned I would not toss up a copper. I have nothing to lose or gain. Uncle Tom is what he is – and this is what it is – and nothing in the end will make any difference. I leave it to you to contradict. I have spoken as I always do from the heart. I trust that you will consider that I do it with sincere friendliness and desire for the good of the book and your firm.”

On November 15, 1854, in response to Stowe’s wishes, Phillips sent the following disclaimer:

“To the Editors of the N.Y. Evening Post: The publishers are sensible of the compliment which critics have paid to Ida May, in attributing the authorship to Mrs. Stowe. The pen that sketched the grand outlines of Uncle Tom might surely a second time delight the world; but it is due to all parties to say, that Ida May is the production of an author as yet unknown to fame.”

This is a very rare Stowe letter mentioning “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, in which she refuses to allow her famed book and reputation to be a vehicle to sell the books of others.

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